My dad used to run a PA company, so when I was young, I spent a lot of time going to festivals with the rest of the family and always absolutely loved them! I’ve been a professional musician for over 25 years and played many, many festivals since and still find them inspiring. As you may know, there’s a small production team, based around my family, who run my record label Pure and organise my live gigs. They include my sister Emma, brother Joe and technical manager Pete – they’re the Underneath the Stars Directors and we operate as a Community Interest Company, with the support of many wonderful volunteers.
Five years ago we took our first experimental steps into the world of festival organising, with a line-up largely drawn from personal friends, heroes and collaborators that myself and my family had been fortunate enough to work with in the tremendous folk and wider acoustic music scene. We laboured and toiled to bring a festival we felt we could be really proud of, taking the best of those we’d seen which we liked and doing our best not repeat some of the things we didn’t like. We’ve always aimed to make annual improvements and showcase the best that South Yorkshire has to offer and being fair, inclusive and sustainable has always been a priority for us, just as it is in everyday life.
Underneath the Stars festival is an arts festival, with so much more to offer than music, for example, Andy Kershaw is performing his fantastic spoken word show and the amazing bestselling author Joanne Harris (she wrote Chocolat don’t you know!) is presenting an audio-visual show. You know that I have got a thing about stars – just look at the number of songs I’ve written about them – well one year we even had a planetarium on site!
We have a great kids’ area with loads of activities, brilliant street theatre, circus, craft activities including a wood turner and blacksmith – not to mention dry stone walling, dance workshops including swing dance – there is so much going on! Even our approach to caterers and traders is different to many other festivals – we like to have unique, high quality and if possible local people and this year are introducing a new Makers Market of craft traders.
Our biggest challenge this year has been moving site and all the planning this has entailed. We’re moving to a beautiful dairy farm, just beside the village of Cawthorne and have been making loads of improvements to the farm in preparation. Moving gives us a lot more scope to develop the festival, though rest assured we are not bringing along loads more people – the festival will be just as intimate and friendly as ever, just better! Looking ahead to future years, we want to take more creative risks and develop our green initiatives, plus try and make the festival pay for itself, putting any profits we might make into supporting other art forms around Barnsley. Yorkshire has an amazing amount of talent of all types and it brilliant to be able to able to shine a spotlight on this, right across the country. Do come and visit us if you are able – you won’t be disappointed!
Underneath the Stars Festival takes place 20-22 July at Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne. You can find all the information you need to at underthestarsfest.co.uk